Stored Energy Methods (Other Than Rechargeable Batteries)

By: Yara Simón  | 
Six yellow batteries arranged in a line.
Humans have been searching for ways to store energy, and one of the ways they found is through batteries. Kinga Krzeminska / Getty Images

Humans have long searched for a way to store energy. One of the major things that's been holding up electric cars is battery technology — when you compare batteries to gasoline, the differences are huge.

For example, an electric car might carry 1,000 pounds (454 kg) of lead-acid batteries that take several hours to recharge and might give the car a 100-mile (160-km) range. Two or 3 gallons of gasoline give the same range, weigh less than 30 pounds (13 kg), and you can pump that much gasoline in about a minute.


­Here's a list of methods for stored energy. Some of these work in an electric car, while others are better for stationary applications.

What Is Stored Energy?

The term "stored energy" refers to the energy that an object possesses due to its position, state or condition. This energy is not actively in use but has the potential to carry out an action when released.

A few examples include springs, rotating flywheels, hydraulic lift systems and water pressure.


Types of Energy

­Energy comes in various forms, each with its unique characteristics and applications. You can break them up into kinetic and potential energy.

Kinetic Energy

Kinetic energy is the energy of an object in motion, such as a spinning top or a moving car.


  • Motion energy: Motion energy is the energy an object possesses due to its motion.
  • Radiant energy: This type of energy moves in transverse waves. Examples include X-rays, radio waves and visible light.
  • Electrical energy: Stored in the movement of electrons, electrical energy powers our devices and lights up our world when harnessed through wires and circuits.
  • Sound energy: Sound is a form of kinetic energy that propagates as waves through a medium, such as air, water or solids. The energy of sound waves is carried by the motion of particles within the medium.
  • Thermal energy: This type of kinetic energy relates to the motion of atoms and molecules within a substance.


Potential Energy

Potential energy is stored within an object due to its position or condition.

  • Gravitational energy: Gravitational potential energy is the energy an object possesses because of its position in a gravitational field.
  • Chemical energy: Stored in the bonds between atoms and molecules, chemical energy is the energy that gets released through chemical reactions. Examples include natural gas and batteries.
  • Nuclear energy: Stored in the nucleus of an atom, nuclear energy is responsible for the immense energy released during nuclear reactions, such as nuclear fission (splitting of atomic nuclei) and nuclear fusion (combining of atomic nuclei).
  • Mechanical energy: Stored mechanical energy is present in objects under tension, such as a stretched rubber band or compressed springs.


9 Examples of Stored Energy

Here are just a few of the nearly infinite examples of stored energy.

1. Falling Weight

One of the oldest techniques people have used is falling weight. You lift the weight to store the energy in it and then let the weight fall to extract the energy. Many grandfather clocks and cuckoo clocks use this technique.


By running the string attached to the weights through a gear train, you can use a heavy weight and let it fall over a long period of time. (See How Pendulum Clocks Work.) This approach doesn't work very well in an electric car, but it has worked well in clocks for hundreds of years.

2. Falling Water

Many power plants use the "falling weight" approach in the form of water. The water is pumped uphill to a lake at night when the power plant has excess capacity. During high-demand daytime periods, the water runs through a turbine on its way downhill to a lower lake. (See How Hydropower Plants Work.)

3. Deformation

Another way to store energy is in some form of repeatable mechanical deformation. This is the idea behind a spring used in a wind-up clock or a rubber band used in a wind-up airplane. You store the energy by bending (deforming) the material in a spring, and the material releases the energy as it returns to its original shape.

At the scale of a car, this technology has problems because of the weight of the spring, but at smaller scales (like a wristwatch), it works great.

4. Gasoline

Nature has been storing energy for a long time, and if you want to think about it in this way, gasoline is really a form of stored energy. Plants absorb sunlight and turn it into carbohydrates. Over millions of years, these carbohydrates can turn into oil or coal.

On a more human time scale, we burn wood (which is a carbohydrate) to release stored energy, or turn corn into alcohol and burn the alcohol.

5. Fat

Another technique that nature uses to store energy is fat, which many of us are familiar with in a personal way. It is interesting to think about a car that somehow eats grass or some other carbohydrate and stores it as fat!

6. Electrolysis

You can take energy and split water into its hydrogen and oxygen atoms using electrolysis. By storing the hydrogen and oxygen in tanks, you can later create energy by burning it, or (more efficiently) by running it through a fuel cell.

You can use the energy to spin up a flywheel and then later extract the energy by using the flywheel to run a generator.

7. Heat

You can store heat directly and later convert the heat to another form of energy like electricity.

8. Compressed Air

You can use compressed air to store energy. Toys like the Air Hog store energy in this way. Compressing gases like nitrogen enough produces liquid nitrogen.

9. Antimatter

One of the new technologies that may become available in the future involves antimatter. When you combine normal matter with antimatter, you get energy. You store the energy by creating the antimatter.

Right now, none of these techniques can hold a candle (another form of stored energy!) to gasoline in the convenience sense. Fuel cells using methanol look to be the closest competitor right now and will probably become available to the general public over the next few years.

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.


Frequently Answered Questions

What device can store energy?
Batteries are devices that store energy.